TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (The News Service of Florida) — More than 100,000 first-time unemployment claims were filed in Florida last week as the economy continues to struggle amid high coronavirus numbers.
The U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday reported that Florida accounted for 105,410 of the estimated 1.4 million initial claims filed nationally in the week that ended July 18.
Only Georgia, with 120,281 claims, and California, with 292,673, had higher weekly figures.
While the Florida number was down from 132,831 claims during the week that ended July 11, it continued to show businesses shedding jobs. Florida’s unemployment rate in June was 10.4 percent, with the state Department of Economic Opportunity scheduled to release a July rate on Aug. 21.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, appearing Thursday on the Fox News show “Fox & Friends,” disputed that his economic reopening efforts that started May 4 have accounted for the state’s surge in cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
“I think people are always trying to, you know, do political blame. But I do think that trends are much more positive today than they were two weeks ago,” DeSantis said. “We peaked on the emergency department visits for COVID-like illness on July 7. And we’ve seen a general flattening in the hospital (admissions) for COVID. … You’re starting to get stabilization. Our positivity rate is slightly down from where it was, which we think will continue.”
The state Department of Health on Thursday reported COVID-19 cases continued to rise, with 10,249 more cases and 173 new deaths, the highest single-day number of deaths since the pandemic hit Florida in March.
Florida peaked with 506,670 unemployment claims during the week that ended April 18. In mid-June, the U.S. Department of Labor posted weekly first-time jobless claims for Florida of 88,148 and 93,394, but the weekly numbers have again topped 100,000 this month.
The June unemployment rate, released last week by the Department of Economic Opportunity, reflected an estimated 1.02 million Floridians out of work, down 298,000 from May when unemployment stood at 13.7 percent.
While major theme parks have reopened with limited capacity, bars and nightclubs continue to be largely shut down because on-site consumption of alcohol is prohibited to try to prevent the spread of the disease.
Restaurants that draw most of their revenue from food are allowed to operate at 50 percent indoor occupancy and are not included in the on-site alcohol sale ban.
On Monday, members of the Florida Craft Brewing Industry warned DeSantis and Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears that more than 100 breweries will close permanently if the bar prohibition remains in place for more than two more weeks.
“The vast majority of breweries in Florida (approximately 90 percent) have been closed in 2020 for more days than they have been open,” the industry said in a letter to DeSantis and Beshears. “Those openings were only previously permitted under some type of exemption created by your administration. This quite obviously is unsustainable for our small businesses.”
Numerous bar owners have filed lawsuits against the state over a June 26 order that reimposed the prohibition on serving drinks for on-site consumption.
The state issued the order because non-compliance with coronavirus safety guidelines was considered too widespread to enforce in the bar industry.
Beshears has said the bar scene will remain on hold until there is a massive reversal in the growth of positive coronavirus cases.
Since March 15, more than 3.2 million unemployment applications have been filed in Florida, with more than 3 million considered “unique.” Of the unique claims, more than 2.75 million had been processed as of Wednesday, with nearly 1.79 million claimants paid. The state had distributed $11.25 billion in state and federal benefits, of which $2.5 billion was state money.
Negotiations continued Thursday in Washington, D.C., on another stimulus package. Part of the debate has involved whether to extend additional federal unemployment benefits. A $600-a-week supplemental benefit was approved in a March stimulus package, but it is slated to expire.